Building Blocks of a Great CEO: 5 Reputational Qualities

Jim Barbagallo

You’ve likely heard the expression - “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Perhaps you’ve seen it on a T-shirt or bumper sticker. Perhaps even lived it while working for a company where the CEO or Chairman, or both, built their company’s or their own reputation on it.

Unfortunately, it’s a mantra too many senior executives of large and small companies still rule by.

Take Dish Network Chairman (ex-CEO) Charles W. Ergen. The culture of fear and intimidation he created as founder of the satellite-TV company earned his company Bloomberg’s “Meanest Company in America” award. Though Ergen ended his terror of reign as CEO two years ago, he remains the company’s largest shareholder. His influence is unyielding. According to Bloomberg, a manager there once told an employee, “You’re part of a poisonous environment … go find a job where you can use your talents for good rather than evil.”

Ergen is undeterred. He continues to makes unilateral decisions. Earlier this week, the WSJ called him a “corporate brawler” in a reference to Ergen’s recent unsolicited bid for Clearwire Corp., the wireless broadband provider.

If there ever was a candidate for a reputation communications do over, it’s Mr. Ergen. The problem is that executives like Ergen, who are in the greatest need of reputation help, are the last to recognize it. Typically, they are much too arrogant to adhere the advice of their communications counselors.

This time of year, there’s no shortage of articles about the worst companies or the most-hated companies. What most of these companies have in common is a CEO who’s on someone’s list of the CEOs with the worst reputations. And what many of these same CEOs don’t get is that they are responsible for about 50 percent of their company’s reputation.

Take Rodrigo Rato. He resigned last July from his post as chairman of Bankia, a Spanish banking conglomerate, following an investigation of the “hat trick” of corporate crime: price-fixing, embezzlement and fraud.

Then there’s former Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn, knocked down by his company’s colossal market share loss and sinking stock price. Oh, and there was this minor issue of an illicit affair he enjoyed with a lower ranking, much younger employee.

Let’s not forget Martha Stewart’s insider trading scandal of several years back when her company stock sunk like a stone (by more than 90%) following her conviction.

The list goes on and on and on.

Note to CEOs: there’s an 80% chance your company stock will drop 20% in a single month during your administration and a “A solid reputation could be the difference between recovering…or not.” It’s called goodwill.

What CEO reputational qualities have the greatest impact on the overall reputation of the organizations they serve? The list is a long one, but I like to boil it down to these:

  • Honesty – A CEO must view business ethics as key to overall success.
  • Respect – People are not objects a CEO owns. CEOs who respect others are usually shown the same level of respect.
  • Care – People (a.k.a. employees) are guided by feelings. The best CEOs work to understand the feelings, values and beliefs of their employees. A CEO and caring person can be one in the same.
  • Integrity - the integrity of any organization starts with strong leadership; strong ethical leadership.
  • Humility – legendary business consultant Jim Collins said that among other things, the best CEOs “display a remarkable humility about themselves, ascribing much of their own success to luck, discipline and preparation rather than personal genius.”

I’d be interested to see what your list looks like?

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